Tobacco education program faces funding cuts

A tobacco education program that has helped adults to kick the habit and discouraged children from smoking may become a casualty of the $1.6 billion deficit in the state budget.

Gov.

Jane Hull has proposed cutting funding for the Tobacco Education and Prevention Program to $15 million for the 2001-02 fiscal year and to $5 million for the 2002-03 fiscal year, said Cathy Bischoff, who heads the TEPP program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

She said the governor plans to transfer the funds to pay for behavioral health services.

The budget for TEPP for the current fiscal year, which concludes July 1, 2002, is $32 million, Bischoff said.

A total of $23 million in the budget comes from 23 cents of a 58-cent tax on cigarette packs, Bischoff said.

The proposed funding cuts come to 15 cents per pack for the current fiscal year and 5 cents per pack in the next fiscal year.

Mohave County receives $750,000 a year in funding, said Susan Williams, coordinator of the Mohave County Tobacco Use Prevention Program.

Williams said the governor's proposed cuts would "significantly reduce or eliminate" the program in this county.

The governor's press secretary, Francie Noyes, defended the proposed cuts.

"This is real: a $1.6 billion deficit," Noyes said.

"The governor is the only one who has a plan to make up that $1.6 billion shortfall."

Noyes said the governor had to make "very difficult choices," and decided to fund "essential state services." She added the funding cuts would apply for one to two years, with the hope that the economy would improve.

The tobacco education program needs to pay for direct services instead of television commercials, Noyes said.

However, Bischoff said $23 million goes to community-based services such as stop-smoking classes, and $9 million is earmarked toward public relations and advertising.

Bischoff also questioned the legality of transferring the funds, and cited voter approval in 1994 of Proposition 200.

Proposition 200 raised the tax on cigarette packs by 40 cents to 58 cents, and set aside 23 cents for every dollar to the health education account for prevention, education, cessation (stop smoking) and evaluation.

The proposition also earmarked 70 cents to the medically needy account for health care services and 5 cents for the health research account on the prevention and treatment of tobacco-related diseases and addiction.

Another 2 cents goes to the state Department of Corrections to compensate for cuts in the corrections fund.

However, Noyes in turn cited voter approval in 1998 of Proposition 105, which bars the Legislature from changing voter-approved measures until five years have elapsed.

Its provisions are not retroactive.

"There is no legal reason that the governor cannot make proposed language," Noyes said.

Noyes criticized opponents of the proposed cuts for not coming up with any alternative plan.

"People who are criticizing the governor's plan – where is their plan?" she asked.

However, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year, announced on Thursday that she would petition to put on the ballot an initiative to bump the tax on cigarette packs to 70 cents.

If backers could gather 101,762 signatures, it would go on the 2002 ballot.

Noyes said the decision is in the hands of the state Legislature, which has been meeting in special session since last week.

State Rep.

Jim Sedillo, D-Flagstaff, said he opposes any cuts in the tobacco education program, but would consider a compromise such as a 10-cent increase on the tax on cigarette packs.

"I am against the actual divestiture of this particular fund, but I also realize in this day and age a compromise is something we have to address," Sedillo said.

Sedillo characterized the tobacco education program as one of the "most successful" programs in the state and one that serves as a model for other states.

State Rep.

Tom O'Halleran, R-Oak Creek, and Sen.

John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff, could not be reached for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.